Frank Zappa
May 11, 2005 8:04 AM   Subscribe

I don't know anything about Frank Zappa. What album should I start with - and/or what is his best?
posted by grateful to Media & Arts (37 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Hot Rats!
posted by greasy_skillet at 8:11 AM on May 11, 2005

The best album, or the best one to start with, is going to vary with what part of his work you're interested in. Do you want to hear early work that emulates doo-wop and garage rock, or later stuff that sounds like a big 70's stadium band, or jazz fusion, or composed pieces for orchestra?
posted by rxrfrx at 8:12 AM on May 11, 2005

I'm reliably informed Sheik Yerbouti is the rudest. Guess it depends on your perspective whether you think that equates to "best":-)
posted by handee at 8:15 AM on May 11, 2005

I'd probably second "Hot Rats" as a relatively gentle introduction to the man. If you want relatively gentle, of course.
posted by Decani at 8:21 AM on May 11, 2005

Response by poster: rxrfrx - I know so little about FZ that I didn't even know that was a choice. I'd probably gravitate to the jazz w/maybe a little 70's rock throw in.
posted by grateful at 8:24 AM on May 11, 2005

One Size Fits All has my favorite Zappa song ever, Sofa No.2, my seven yeard old daughter even likes it. Apostrophe is decent as well. The song is beautifully covered by Steve Vai (electric) and Michael Hedges (acoustic)
posted by thimk at 8:33 AM on May 11, 2005

We're Only In It For the Money
posted by box at 8:34 AM on May 11, 2005

I agree with box. We're Only in it For the Money covers a lot of the different sides of Zappa in one convenient album.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 9:53 AM on May 11, 2005

All of the above suggestions are good, but I'd have to recommend Hot Rats, as it is easy to listen to and therefore a good ice breaker for a Zappa newbie. One of his more accessible albums, lets say.
posted by Specklet at 10:04 AM on May 11, 2005

I can't believe nobody has mentioned this. They have packaged two of Frank's greatest records on one CD. Apostrophe and Overnight Sensation. You'll find many Zappa favorites on it, including, "Yellow Snow" and "Moving to Montana." Also, Joe's Garage Vol. 1 is excellent! GOOD STUFF!
posted by wsg at 10:07 AM on May 11, 2005

apostrophe/overnight sensation is a pretty accessable CD imo.

Best way though- get a fanatical friend to make you a couple mix tapes/cds.
posted by duckstab at 10:08 AM on May 11, 2005

I would actually recommend Joe's Garage for a newcomer, I'm not sure that looking for "accessible" Zappa is a good idea as most of his work doesn't really fall into that category.

The great thing about Joe's Garage is the thread of narrative, the incredible musicianship and the diversity of music styles. It's also easier to "get into" the world of Zappa with a concept album that frames the music and introduces you to his particular sense of humor . .
posted by jeremias at 10:15 AM on May 11, 2005

Joe's Garage Vol. 1 is great. Vols. 2 & 3, not so much.
posted by wsg at 11:01 AM on May 11, 2005

I second Sheik Yerbouti or Joe's Garage Vol. 1. I prefer Sheik, but jeremiah's point about Joe's Garage is probably true.

Oh, man, I'm going home tonight and queuing up a bunch of Zappa. Thanks, grateful.
posted by Plutor at 11:06 AM on May 11, 2005

How can you guys NOT recommend "Live at the Fillmore East"? What a great album......Get whatever else they recommend grateful, but also get the Fillmore album - hilarious.
posted by Pressed Rat at 11:07 AM on May 11, 2005

Third for We're Only In It For The Money
posted by rooftop secrets at 11:08 AM on May 11, 2005

Joe's Garage and Sheik Yerbouti are probably his most accesible from a mainstream rock standpoint, although the lyrics are not for the faint of heart. Freak Out and We're Only In It For The Money are great examples of Zappa at his freakiest. Bongo Fury contains some of his collaborations with Captain Beefheart and is well worth a listen, too. Hot Rats is definitely worth it, for "Peaches En Regalia" and "Willie The Pimp." Plus you get an intro to Jean-Luc Ponty and Lowell George in the bargain.
posted by jonmc at 11:14 AM on May 11, 2005

There's a "Greatest Hits" package called Strictly Commercial that might give you a bit better idea what parts of his oeuvre most interest you.

I'd also second "Hot Rats" as indispensable. I've always been partial to Weasels Ripped My Flesh, which has a nice mix of live and studio stuff.

Absolutely Free was the very first Mothers of Invention album (I think). It's a hoot.
posted by timeistight at 11:19 AM on May 11, 2005

timeistight: Freak Out! actually came first, in 1966. I have some pre-Mothers Zappa recordings, like "How's Your Bird" from Baby Ray & the Ferns where you can definitely hear the beginnings of Frank's style of humor and "Grunion Run" from the Hollywood Persuaders which features his nascent guitar mastery. Get in touch if you'd like to hear 'em.
posted by jonmc at 11:24 AM on May 11, 2005

"Hot Rats" was my first Zappa album, and it nearly turned me off of the guy for life. I still find it pretentious, even for Zappa. "Roxy & Elsewhere" changed my mind however, and I have liked just about everything else that I have heard by him. It's just "Hot Rats" that I don't like.
posted by mischief at 11:51 AM on May 11, 2005

I love his live stuff.. he put together an incredible band in the late 80's.. the tour fell apart in Europe and never made it to the States. The good news for us is that they recorded it... The album is "The Best Band You Have Never Heard In Your Life."

It is accessible on many levels as it has several cover songs of different genres as well as Zappa originals.

Truly an amazing set of recordings that I never tire of.
posted by Duncan at 12:06 PM on May 11, 2005

I go through a Zappa phase a couple of times a year. For a high-quality sampling of many Zappa tastes (complex rock, rude commentary and satire, orchestral pieces, and really out there none-of-the-above material) I recommend L├Ąther, a 3-CD collection of material originally put out on four separate CDs in the late '70s.

This FAQ has a good list of recommendations based on which of the material you want to dig into next.

My personal favorites are the Hot Rats-Waka/Jawaka-Grand Wazoo trifecta (excellent jazzy material, largely instrumental - sold as a 3-cd box set now as well) and the 1988 band (his final tour), represented on Broadway The Hard Way-The Best Band You Never Heard In Your Life-Make A Jazz Noise Here. The latter is my favorite entry in the Zappa ouevre. Both of those "threesomes" of recordings are among his most accessible.
posted by gazole at 12:18 PM on May 11, 2005

Oh, one more recommendation - You Can't Do That On Stage Anymore Vol. 1, the first entry in his 6-part, 12-cd live retrospective, an AMAZING collection of material from live bands spanning his entire career. Vol. 1 is the best of them, and also very accessible.
posted by gazole at 12:22 PM on May 11, 2005

Shut up 'n Play yer Guitar, Son of SUnPYG, Return of the Son of SUnPYG.
posted by aspenbaloo at 12:32 PM on May 11, 2005

If you're going to listen to Joe's Garage or Sheik Yerbuti (and you should), just make sure you do it alone or with someone who knows the material and/or likes filth. Many of the Zappa songs in that vein combine totally hummable melodies with appalling lyrics, and if you're not careful, you'll find yourself singing along with "Bobby Brown," without really thinking about the words, and if someone else catches you doing that, it's really embarrassing. I speak from experience.
posted by anapestic at 1:08 PM on May 11, 2005

If you're going to listen to Joe's Garage or Sheik Yerbuti (and you should), just make sure you do it alone or with someone who knows the material and/or likes filth.

And can handle off-color ethnic humor: remember these numbers?
posted by jonmc at 1:20 PM on May 11, 2005

> How can you guys NOT recommend "Live at the Fillmore East"? What a great album...

Very great. But also very, uh, rude. More so imho than Sheik or Joe's. Also, heavy on comedy and light on music. On the other hand, nobody should die without hearing the mudshark arpeggio.

My recommendation (warning, I am a Zappa idolater): locate the video of 200 Motels. Has it all: music (boogie to jazz to symphonic to music-hall romantic to 12-tone classical), comedy, indescribable weirdness, greatest hits (Penis Dimension), most all of Zappa's recurrent themes/fetishes in one handy package, and even a narrative structure of sorts to hold it all together.
posted by jfuller at 1:24 PM on May 11, 2005

Apostrophe is decent as well. The song is beautifully covered by Steve Vai (electric)...

He does? Where... which album?
posted by Witty at 1:59 PM on May 11, 2005

Apostrophe, and Overnight Sensation are the two I'd recommend, with Apostrophe as the one true disc - and the one that turned me onto Zappa, years ago.
posted by Elvis at 2:20 PM on May 11, 2005

I say, go with "Have I offended Someone". I *think* that's a compilation album. In any case, it has all my favorite Zappa tunes on it, and I like the way it's layered.
posted by blindcarboncopy at 3:46 PM on May 11, 2005

I second Duncan's suggestion of The Best Band You Have Never Heard In Your Life.
posted by the_bone at 8:30 PM on May 11, 2005

I'll tell you what to avoid:

Weasels Ripped My Flesh
Lumpy Gravy
Zoot Allures
Hot Rats

Those three I still find hard to pallette except from a historical perspective. I love each of them in my own little way but if I were to turn someone new on to Zappa, those would be the last three I'd choose.

I was introduced to FZ with Sheik Yerbouti so for sentimental reasons I love, love, love that album. Sonically speaking, it's one of his best.

You Are What You Is
, for me, is a great commentary on all that was bad with the 80s and you can't go wrong there. Plus you can hear Steve Vai at his pre-wankery, irreverent best.

One Size Fits All
and Live at The Roxy are incredible documents to Zappa in the studio and live and they won't turn a newcomer off.

Avoid ANY bootlegs. I cannot stress this enough. Unless you are already a hardcore fan, 99% of the Zappa bootlegs are worthless and the ones that are passable are just that; passable. I have nearly everything he's ever released (including interviews [thanks Jonmc!]) and the bootlegs are just a bad representation of his body of work.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 8:48 PM on May 11, 2005

To follow up anapestic's comment on Sheik Yerbouti, an acquaintance once reported this song going through his mind during a sexual encounter. It's certainly not one to find yourself singing out loud in public...
posted by handee at 1:36 AM on May 12, 2005

Response by poster: Thanks axeme!
posted by grateful at 6:33 AM on May 12, 2005

witty, steve vai covers sofa no 2 on Mystery Tracks No.3
Michael Hedges covers on Oracle although credited as Sofa No. 1. (same song with lyrics throughout on the original Zappa)
posted by thimk at 8:39 AM on May 12, 2005

Live In New York runs the gamut of his compositions: psuedoo-wap, modern compositions, filthy/humorous lyrics, 70s rock. I'd recommend that or a sort of abbreviated version of Live In New York, Baby Snakes. The version of "Titties and Beer" is better on Live though.
posted by therealadam at 11:17 AM on May 12, 2005

And in summary, what all this goes to show is that where Frank is concerned, there is no right answer....
posted by Decani at 9:16 AM on May 13, 2005

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